Louis May is in a situation that many young readers will find unfortunately familiar. His parents have divorced, and now he’s living in a new town, with a new school, no friends and a stepmother and stepbrother whom he doesn’t like very much. What makes Louis’ story unique is its time and place; in Wes Tooke’s debut novel for middle-schoolers, Lucky: Maris, Mantle, and My Best Summer Ever, the year is 1961, the place is New York City and the backdrop is the most famous home-run chase in history.

Louis loves baseball—he knows all the teams, their players and their stats, and he especially loves the New York Yankees. He only wishes he could play the game as well as his stepbrother Bryce, who joins in with the other kids in mocking him when he inevitably strikes out or muffs a grounder. Life takes a dramatic turn when Louis’ father takes him along with a business client to a Yankees game and a lucky catch lands him a job as a Yankees bat boy!

In the weeks and months that follow, Louis must somehow improve his unhappy home life, while at the same time work a job that puts him smack in the middle of Roger Maris’ and Mickey Mantle’s race to break Babe Ruth’s record. Along the way, he’ll need to deal with both his avant-garde mother and her more traditional replacement, face down bullies and aggressive reporters, and maybe improve his baseball skills a bit.

Lucky succeeds both as a story about a kid learning to deal with the world on his own (and growing up in the process) and as an insightful look into the players involved in one of the most dramatic sports stories of our time. If you have a child who’s into sports—or into well-written books, for that matter—then put a copy of Lucky into their hands. It just might beat catching a home-run ball.

James Neal Webb is a Boston Red Sox fan who doesn’t usually read books about the Yankees, but in this case he’s happy to make an exception.

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